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Leftovers? Make Soup! December 30, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Eating Down the Fridge, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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That’s kind of always been, I don’t know, a tradition, right?

I’ve heard of people who keep a bowl or bucket in the freezer to just dump all the leftover meats and veggies into, along with any random bits of potato or rice, then, once the bucket’s full, they dump it into a pot with some liquid and make a pot of soup.

We tried that for a while – or something like that, anyway.  One summer, whenever we had grilled meat (or vegetables) leftover, we’d dice them up and shove them in a quart container in the freezer.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out the way we intended – when we grill meats in the summer, it’s often marinated, and, really who wants to make soup in the dead of summer anyway?  So what happened was we ended up with several containers of random diced meats (and vegetables) that we’d dump into a stockpot in late fall-early winter, with maybe some chicken stock and a quart of tomatoes, add some rice, and call it soup.

PhotobucketYeah, that didn’t work out so well.  The soup was, at best, meh.  Now granted, this was a few years ago.  But still, it’s been a while since we’ve been terribly interested in re-purposing leftovers.  After all, they make perfectly fine lunches, right?

Well, a while ago, I picked up several butternut squashes at the market, and, really, much as we love butternut, two people can only eat just so much squash before it starts to get, well, let’s say we had one that was a little worse for wear and needed to be used sooner rather than later.  So we roasted up the the whole thing, and we wound up with a bunch left over.

PhotobucketSince we’re still on our “clean out the freezer” kick, I did some thinking about how I could recycle the leftover squash, using stuff we had on hand, into a new and exciting meal.

And I just couldn’t get soup out of my mind.  And we like butternut squash soup – very much – but that wasn’t going to get anything out of the freezer.  So I decided to improvise.

I pulled a package (maybe half a pound) of breakfast sausage out of the freezer – about 3 links, and sliced the sausage, removing the casings first.  Then we browned the sausage coins in a Dutch oven, then removed it from the pan and set it aside.

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Then, right in the same pan, I browned a couple of minced shallots – after all, I don’t think you can have soup without something from the onion family, can you?  (If I hadn’t had a couple of shallots knocking around, I’d have gone with a single clove of garlic or a small onion.)

Just saute that until it’s softened and slightly browned.

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Now for the cool part.

Add a teaspoon or so of pumpkin pie spice (or a combination of 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. ground ginger, and 1/8 tsp. each ground nutmeg and ground allspice.

Pumpkin pie spice is just easier, somehow.

Along with that, I added about 1/8 tsp. of cayenne pepper.

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Then just add your leftover squash (this was probably 3 or 4 cups of diced, cooked squash) and a quart and a half or so of chicken stock.  Stir that up (get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan) and let it cook until the squash is heated through.  It won’t take long – the squash is already cooked, but it’ll mash easier if it’s hot.

Use either a masher or a blender or, our personal favorite, a stick blender, and mash the squash mixture until it’s smooth – or as smooth as you’d like it.

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And now it’s just a simple matter of adding the sausage back to the soup.  We also included a couple of cups of cooked white beans – certainly not more than a single can’s worth, if you want to use canned.

Beans are good for you.

And tasty too.

We stirred everything together, let it cool, and shoved it in the fridge until Soup Night, when it got reheated for dinner.

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Soup is almost always better reheated, you know.  Something about that time in the fridge just enhances the flavors – they have a chance to mellow a bit, and sort of meld together into a harmonious whole.

Which is exactly what happened here – the sweetness of the squash, the warm-sweetness of the pumpkin pie spice, the savoriness of the breakfast sausage, all highlighted by the hint of cayenne, and all absorbed ever-so-much by the beans – it was enough to convince me to start making  leftover soup again!

December’s Third Thursday – Taking a Leek December 16, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in soupe du semaine, Third Thursday.
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Welcome to the December 2010 installment of Third Thursdays!

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I don’t know about you, but I’m having a bit of trouble wrapping my brain around the fact that it’s the THIRD THURSDAY IN DECEMBER!  Christmas is less than 10 days away – and then the new year is just after that!  Where, I ask you, does the time go?

PhotobucketI’ll tell you where it goes, at least around here lately – it goes to shoveling the driveway.   (Mostly Peeps, but still.)  It has done nothing but snow snow snow for DAYS now!  And the only reason we’re not snowed in is because I can drive The Tank through a blizzard now.  Well, that, and Harley Guy‘s keeping our shared driveway plowed!

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So what better way to warm up on a cold, snowy evening than with a nice bowl of soup, right?  And, what with the vegetable surpluses we frequently experience, well, it only made sense to make a warm, creamy vegetable soup!

A while back, I don’t even remember when, I added Daily Unadventures In Cooking to my Google reader, and I’ve been following Katerina for several months now – she’s recently started culinary school, and one of her first recipes was for Cream of Leek Soup.

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This is such a simple soup – simple to make, simple flavors – but it’s, honestly, drop-dead delicious.

(And I have no doubt the technique would work well with other vegetables – particularly aromatic veggies like onions or even garlic.)

So we start with a bunch of leeks, sliced thinly, along with some diced onion – I was doubling Katerina’s recipe, so I started with a large bunch of leeks, which translated to about 8 cups, and a smallish onion.

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Sweat that in about half a stick of butter over very low heat with a good pinch of salt and a smaller pinch of pepper.

Probably using white pepper would be better, but, well, you know me.  Whatever.

Once the leeks are softened, you’re going to use the butter you cooked them in, and a roughly equal amount of flour (that would be 1/4 cup with a half stick of butter) to create a roux – leeks and all.

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That’s only going to take a couple of minutes of stirring, then add about a quart and a half of stock – vegetable stock if you’re going the “meatless” route – I used diluted chicken stock.

Now it’s almost soup – let it simmer until the leeks are tender – not more than 15 or 20 minutes.

Then, and this is the cool part – add some chopped (or not) fresh parsley.  What Katerina says is

the parsley will encourage a green colour in the soup.

Which, I guess, is not a bad thing – after all,  vegetables should be green, right?

Well, unless they’re something like squash or sweet potatoes.  Or beets.

But you know what I mean.

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And so anyway, once the leeks are tender, we blended the soup (carefully, of course!) and, with the parsley, it turned the loveliest shade of green (that you really can’t tell in this light).  We immediately froze half of it – a quart – and to the rest, we added just a couple of tablespoons of half and half (mainly because I’d picked some up on sale) and some crumbled bacon.

And wow, was it good – lovely, creamy, leeky flavor, warm and filling, without the heaviness of other, more cream-filled creamy soups.

This soup actually tastes like leeks.  (Which is a good thing!)

And, of course, if you’d like to play along with our Third Thursday challenge, leave a comment with a link to (or description of) your Third Thursday project – tell us what you’re up to!  For loose guidelines, or if you want to check out some past Thursdays, they’re right here! 

Squash AND Sausage? Together? Yeah. November 23, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Eating Down the Fridge, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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As you may know, we’ve been on the never-ending quest to empty the freezer.  That’s not as easy as it seems, given that by “freezer” I mean a HUGE chest freezer and a smaller upright freezer.  And, of course, the freezer over the refrigerator.

PhotobucketSee, I’ve gotten into the habit of buying (and cooking) in bulk and freezing just about everything.  Not to say that that’s a bad thing, really – it’s certainly cost-effective.  And it allows us to make big batches of stuff that really needs to be made in big batches – it’s just that, when there are just two of us, well, you need a plan if you’re doing pretty much anything “in bulk.”  And it’s hard to have a plan when you really don’t know what’s going on down there in the freezer, you know?

PhotobucketAdd to that the fact that our eating habits are shifting a bit – we’re starting to move away from the “slab o’ meat and some starch” and more toward the “fresh veggies with a little meat” sort of meals, some of us a bit more willingly than others, but, well, yeah.

So anyway, I came home from the market a while ago with a plethora of squashes – some butternut, and some acorn squash and some buttercups – it was the hat trick of squash.

I do love me some squash.

Of course, squash, on its own, doesn’t help with the freezer, does it?

Unless. . . unless I could find something to do with the squash that involved meat.  And not just any meat, but the chicken sausage that we made last summer.

PhotobucketNow here’s the thing with this sausage.  Although we thought we followed the recipe to the letter, I’m pretty sure we must have done something wrong.

I’m not saying we hated the sausage, exactly.  But I’m not NOT saying it, either, if you know what I mean.  And it was far too much work to just pitch.  Which leaves us with re-purposing it.

So we’ve got squash, and we’ve got chicken, basil and tomato sausage.  Can we do something with them together?  So I asked Google, and Google gave me Emeril’s recipe for butternut squash and Italian sausage soup.

All right, let’s do it.

PhotobucketThis was really pretty simple – first we roasted the squash and scraped it out of the skin, then we took the sausage out of the casings (after all that work getting it into the casings!) and browned that a bit.

Add a chopped onion, a few cloves of minced garlic, a bunch of chopped sage, and some fresh marjoram.  Let that cook until the onions are soft, then stir in the roasted squash, a quart of chicken stock plus a couple of cups of water, and bring the whole thing to a boil.

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Now here’s the really freaky thing.

You take this entire pot of soup – squash, sausage and everything – and you blend it.

That’s right.  Either dump the soup in the blender, or use the stick blender.

I’m pretty sure I never EVER would have even considered blending sausage.  I mean – this sausage has been ground, mixed, and shoved into casings.  How much abuse can meat actually take?

A lot, it turns out.  The stick blender pulverized the soup – sausage and all – into a fairly smooth consistency.

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A couple of notes here – first, this soup was surprisingly good!

I mean, given the fact that we weren’t happy with the underlying sausage, especially, we were both surprised by how tasty it was.

And – and this is important – the leftovers freeze very nicely.  I shared a quart with our neighbors, and the rest, I put into two individual serving containers in the freezer.  And they’ve made a couple of very convenient – and tasty – lunches.

Who would have thought?

Not Another Soup! November 16, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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One would think that the only thing we eat around here is soup, wouldn’t one?  While that’s not really strictly true, we do, once the weather starts cooling down, gravitate more toward belly-warming soups.

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On top of that, I’m we’re trying to enjoy a more healthy diet most of the time, and I’m challenging myself to take advantage of the incredible deals that I can find locally – mainly at the public market.

Like a couple of weeks ago when I scored some wonderful spinach – 3 1-pound bunches for $2.  I ask you – how could I pass it by?

PhotobucketOf course, this wasn’t baby spinach – it’s a bit late in the season for that.  Still, it was quite tender.

Basically, what I do when I get home from the market is this.

First, I clean whatever vegetables I have that need cleaning.

Then, unless I already have something in mind, I go to the internet and ask it what would be good with whatever vegetable I have on hand.  Sometimes I’ll go to Epicurious, sometimes Cooks Illustrated, and sometimes, just The Internet in general – and this time, Cooks Illustrated coughed up a recipe for Hearty Lentil Soup with Spinach.

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We all know know I love my lentils – and add them to some fresh spinach, home-cured bacon, and homemade chicken stock?

Score!

Plus, we took this opportunity finish up some dribs and drabs of leftover lentils – so it was a multi-lentil soup!

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So this soup was not only “hearty” – it was easy-peasy!

We started with 3 slices of bacon, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces, and we crisp that up a bit – maybe 3-4 minutes.

Then add a large onion (finely chopped) and a couple of carrots (also finely chopped).

Think of it as a good opportunity to work on your knife skills – or am I the only one who needs work on those?

Once the vegetables have softened (a couple of minutes), stir in 3 cloves of garlic that have been either pressed through a garlic press, or finely minced.

More knife skills. . .

Then we’ll add a pint (or a 14-ish ounce can) of drained diced tomatoes, a bay leaf, and a sprig of fresh thyme (removed from the stem).  (The original recipe says to mince the thyme, but seriously? Do you know how tiny thyme leaves are?  I think that’s taking knife skills a bit far, if you ask me.)

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Now, we didn’t have quite enough of the French green lentils – the recipe called for a cup, and I had about half a cup.

And we seemed to have been out of the plain brown lentils (turns out they were behind something else in the cupboard – go figure!).  But we did have some super-quick cooking red lentils.

So yeah.  Once the veggies are softened and the thyme has been added, then I stirred just the green lentils in – they’re going to take a while to cook, so I gave them about a 15 minute head start, covered, in just the tomatoes, along with some salt and pepper.   Then I added half a cup of white wine (kind of a deglazing thing), bringing to a simmer, added a quart of chicken stock, and 2 cups of water.

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Once all that came up to a boil, I poured in the rest of the red lentils – which will take no more than a couple of minutes to cook.  And even then, they’re going to dissolve anyway, making the soup kind of thick and homey.

That’s cool.

I just reduced the heat and simmered, at that point, until the green lentils were soft but not mush – which, it’s been my experience, would take a whole lot longer than I’m willing to spend anyway.

All told, about half an hour or so.

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Meanwhile, I chopped up a bunch of spinach and placed it in the bottom of my storage container.  (If you’re not making this soup in advance, and I recommend you make pretty much all soups in advance, then just hold the spinach until you’re ready for it.)

Once your lentils are at the desired state of doneness,  make sure to remove your bay leaf.   Most recipes hinge upon adding and removing bay leaves. . .

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If desired, take about half of your soup and blend it – that will help thicken it.  We opted not to, as the red lentils had, by this time, all but disappeared into the broth.

Now, remember how we shoved the spinach into the storage container?  Now we just dumped the hot soup on top of the spinach, effectively cooking the spinach and starting to cool the soup down before refrigeration.

Neat, huh?

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To finish, we reheated the soup, either in a pot or a slow cooker on low (our preferred method whenever possible) and stirred in a splash (a couple of tablespoons) of balsamic vinegar.

To serve, we ladled into soup bowls and topped with freshly grated romano cheese – and, of course, served with fresh bread.

Mmm. . . warm soup belly.

 

Vegetable Challenged November 11, 2010

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Food, soupe du semaine.
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Would you believe that, up until a couple of years ago, I had never, to my knowledge, tasted a leek?

Same goes for parsnips.

I know I’d never cooked with either of them.

Can you imagine?Photobucket

Clearly, being brought up in a meat-and-potatoes sort of family has put me at a distinct veggie disadvantage, hasn’t it?

Peeps and I are fortunate to have the Public Market here in town, and, along with the great deals on pork belly, there are also dozens (many dozens) of vendors, including fish mongers, butchers, food distributors, jewelry makers, and local farmers, just to name a few.

All of which, in addition to some great prices, means that the variety and selection are amazing.

And it means that, for a buck or two, I can pick up a basket or bag of any given vegetable to at least try it if I haven’t had it before, or stock up on it if I have.

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So of course, the first time we saw parsnips, it was a no-brainer – a buck for a good pound of them?

Gimme.

Same goes for leeks – which I fell in love with the first time I tried them.

We both decided that we approve of parsnips, so, once they come into season, I’m always right there with my dollar bill!

Sadly, though, since I have this bad habit (or not so bad, depending on your perspective) of buying lots and lots of fresh produce when it’s locally in season (I ask you, how can be a bad thing?), sometimes, things get put away and I, um, kind of forget about them.

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OK, I guess that can be kind of bad.

But fear not!  I’m getting better at, if not keeping track, at least finding stuff in the fridge before it’s too late!

So where was I going with this again?

Leeks and parsnips.  Yes.  Oh, and apples.

See, here’s what happened.  First, the leeks this year have been beautiful.  Absolutely GORGEOUS.  So I keep buying them.  Right now, I have two baggies of cleaned leeks in the veggie drawer of the fridge.  (I see creamy leek soup in my future.)

Then the parsnips started.

We like parsnips, so I had to pick up some of those, too, now didn’t I?

PhotobucketThen we picked apples.

We’re not going to talk about the pumpkins, squash, and kale, OK?

Anyway.  I happened upon this recipe – it’s like it was calling my name – for creamy parsnip soup.  And you know what was in it besides a pound of parsnips?

Go ahead, guess.  I’ll wait.

Did you guess leeks?

And apples?

Not to mention a couple of kind of small, sort of old-ish potatoes and a pint of homemade chicken stock.

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How lovely!

And, really, that’s about it.  I just sauteed a couple of cups of liced leeks in a teeny-tiny amount of butter, peeled and whacked up a pound or so of parsnips, a couple of apples, and a couple of small potatoes and dumped those in, along with a pint of chicken stock and 4 cups (2 pint jars full) of water.  Add a little salt and pepper, because, well, obviously.

Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat, partially cover, and let it simmer on the back burner while you go about your business – about half an hour or so, until the vegetables (and apples!) are tender.

PhotobucketIf that were it, well, that would be a pretty lame soup, wouldn’t it?  And certainly not very creamy.

So we crack out the stick blender – and puree the heck out of the soup.

Yes, you could use the blender, and our soup will be marginally smoother.  However, our blender lives in the basement because we have a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, and, frankly, I get tired of running up and down the stairs.

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Sad, I know.

Now, when we initially tasted this soup for seasoning, I was a little concerned that it was kind of dull.

But we all know that almost any soup will benefit from an overnight stay in the fridge, right?

And from some chopped, browned bacon sprinkled on top, too.

(If you clicked on the recipe I linked to, you’ll see that, originally, I was directed to “reserve” half a cup of the sliced leeks, then saute them for a garnish  I’d rather include all the leeks in the soup and add  some bacon.  Just saying.)

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NOW it’s done – and it was amazing!

And for what it’s worth, and since there are just the two of us – the leftovers reheated beautifully Saturday afternoon in the wee little (1.5 quart) crockpot – giving me time to fuss with the Pita Experiment.

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